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Spofford Associate Charged in NHPR Vandalism Case

Federal charges filed against Eric Labarge in the New Hampshire Public Radio vandalism investigation draw the case closer to Granite Recovery Centers founder Eric Spofford, Labarge’s close associate and NHPR antagonist.

NHJournal was the first outlet in the state to connect Labarge to the vandalism investigation. 

Spofford is suing the station, NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian, NHPR News Director Dan Barrick, and others for defamation after the broadcaster aired stories last year in which women accused him of sexual misconduct, including assault. 

Eric Spofford speaks to his attorney Michael Strauss last year during a break in a hearing on Spofford’s ongoing defamation lawsuit against NHPR.

A month after the report first aired, Chooljian, Barrick, and their families had their houses vandalized. On Friday, Federal prosecutors with the Massachusetts Attorney’s Office in Boston announced Labarge, 46, and three other New Hampshire men had been indicted for their roles in the vandalism.

According to a statement issued by prosecutors, Labarge agreed to coordinate the frightening vandalism campaign against the journalists with Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua after the story was released.

Spofford has not been charged in the vandalism investigation, and has denied any role in the crimes.

Prosecutors describe Labarge as Spofford’s “close personal associate.” Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, did not respond to NHJournal’s request for comment on the charges against Labarge. Previously, Spofford gave a supportive statement about Labarge.

“I worked closely with Eric Labarge to help him overcome his addiction in the early days of his sobriety,” Spofford said. “I’ve had the opportunity to watch him grow through the ups and downs of recovery for almost ten years. He’s done great things for the recovery community, and I believe he will continue to for years to come.”

Like Spofford, Labarge owns several recovery centers in New Hampshire. Labarge also has a criminal history that includes violence against women attempted murder. He’s currently facing trial in an assault case in Manchester.

According to court records, On or about April 22, 2022, Labarge solicited Cockerline to vandalize Chooljian’s former home in Hanover, using a brick and red spray paint. On the evening of April 24, 2022, Cockerline allegedly spray-painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on the front door and allegedly threw a brick through an exterior window of the home.

On or about April 22, 2022, Saniatan allegedly agreed to vandalize Barrick’s home in Concord, and Chooljian’s parents’ home in Hampstead, using large rocks and red spray paint. After that, on the evening of April 24, 2022, Saniatan allegedly spray painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on the front door and threw a large rock at the exterior of Barrick’s home; and he allegedly threw a softball-sized rock through a front exterior window and spray painted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on one of the garage doors of Chooljian’s parents’ home.

On or about May 18, 2022, Labarge allegedly solicited Cockerline to vandalize Chooljian’s parents’ home in Hampstead, and Chooljian’s home in Melrose, Massachusetts, using bricks and red spray paint. Cockerline, in turn, allegedly recruited Waselchuck to vandalize Chooljian’s residence.

On the evening of May 20, 2022, Cockerline allegedly spraypainted the word “C*NT” in large red letters on one of the garage doors of Chooljian’s parents’ home, and left a brick on the ground near the front door. Several hours later, Waselchuck allegedly threw a brick through an exterior window of Chooljian’s home and painted the phrase “JUST THE BEGINNING” in large red letters on the front of the house.

The men are all charged with conspiracy to commit stalking through interstate travel and/or the use of a facility of interstate commerce. Each charge in the indictment carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution.

NHPR: Spofford Defamation Lawsuit About Retaliation

Now that federal prosecutors say former Granite Recovery CEO Eric Spofford is connected to the men who vandalized the homes of New Hampshire Public Radio journalists, the broadcaster wants to shut down his access to reporting notes and recordings.

“NHPR believes that this lawsuit was filed, not because Spofford’s claims have any conceivable merit, but instead to harass and retaliate against a news organization for its journalism,” wrote Sigmund Schutz, attorney for NHPR.

Spofford is trying to revive his lawsuit against NHPR for its reporting on allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted women he encountered at the drug recovery centers. One of his arguments in the original 300-plus page lawsuit is that NHPR unfairly linked him to the vandalism at the journalists’ homes connected to the story.

However, federal prosecutors said last month Spofford has a connection to the three men charged for allegedly throwing bricks at and vandalizing the New Hampshire and Massachusetts homes of NHPR journalists Lauren Chooljian and Dan Barrick.

Tucker Cockerline, 32, of Salem, N.H., Michael Waselchuck, 35, of Seabrook, N.H., Hampshire, and Keenan Saniatan, 36, of Nashua, N.H., are each charged with conspiring to commit stalking through interstate travel. According to prosecutors, the three suspects coordinated with an unnamed fourth man described as a “close personal associate” of Spofford.

“Given that Spofford has been linked to criminal activity designed to punish NHPR personnel for exercising their First Amendment rights, NHPR Defendants submit that the time for giving him the benefit of the doubt has passed,” Schutz wrote.

Spofford’s lawsuit was dismissed this year by Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire, who ruled Spofford failed to show any evidence the broadcaster acted with malice in its reporting. St. Hilaire gave Spofford time to refile his lawsuit if he could come up with such evidence and further ordered that he can have access to NHPR’s reporting notes and recordings. 

Schutz wants St. Hilaire to vacate the order for the discovery, cutting off Spofford’s access to the material. Short of that, Schutz wants Spofford to pay all the costs associated with compiling the information. That is at least $50,000, including attorney fees.

Spofford’s attorney, Michael Strauss, argues his client is not charged with any wrongdoing in the vandalism, and the federal case does not state he coordinated the crimes. His only demerit is having a relationship with the unnamed and uncharged subject who allegedly coordinated the vandalism.

“The government, however, has neither charged Eric nor even alleged that he knew about or participated in the conspiracy,” Strauss wrote. “The allegations about Eric instead are limited to his relationship with an uncharged subject who, separately, the government alleges has suspiciously timed phone calls with two of the (criminal) defendants,” Strauss wrote. 

Taking away Spofford’s access to the NHPR reporting materials would set a bad legal precedent in civil lawsuits, Strauss wrote. Civil litigants would be emboldened to pursue sanctions against opposing parties based on third-party allegations, Strauss wrote.

The identity of the unnamed subject and Spofford associate who allegedly coordinated the attacks remains protected from the public. However, NHJournal first reported in March that Spofford associate Eric Labarge, 44, was investigated as a suspect in at least one of the New Hampshire incidents. 

Labarge is himself a recovering addict and the owner of the Starting Point Recovery centers.

Labarge has not been charged by any law enforcement agency in the vandalism cases. He has a criminal history that includes violence against women and attempted murder. He is also currently awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a man in Manchester. That assault took place days after the last vandalism attack in May, and the alleged victim was a man who had been a resident at a Starting Point center, according to court records. 

Previously, Spofford has acknowledged his relationship with Labarge.

Labarge is now scheduled for trial in September in the Hillsborough Superior Court — North in Manchester on the assault charge.

NHPR Ordered to Hand Over Spofford Notes in Defamation Suit

In a legal setback for the liberal news outlet, the New Hampshire Public Radio reporter behind a story targeting former Granite State Recovery CEO Eric Spofford has been ordered to hand over her reporting notes and interview transcripts in his defamation case against the station.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire ruled this week that Spofford has a right to review the reporting materials NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian created when she reported on the serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Spofford.

“Upon review, the Court agrees with Spofford that some of the discovery materials he requests could, in theory, include evidence that the NHPR defendants acted with actual malice,” St. Hilaire wrote.

Spofford and his legal team will be able to review notes Chooljian took and transcripts of recorded interviews she conducted with witnesses and alleged victims. The materials must first be produced for the judge to review in a non-public “in camera” hearing where it will be determined what, if anything, is relevant to Spofford’s case.

NHPR objected to the discovery request on the grounds it would ultimately have a chilling effect on speech.

The records to be reviewed include interviews and any correspondence Chooljian had with NHPR colleagues about these sources and their perceived credibility. 

Spofford maintained the sources Chooljian used for the story lied and had obvious credibility issues. He also argued Chooljian likely knew there were problems with the sources, but she and NHPR reported the story anyway.

One key source Spofford is targeting in his search for proof of malice is his ex-girlfriend, Amy Anagnost Cloutier. Spofford has claimed in court records Anagnost Cloutier was intent on ruining his reputation as part of a bitter custody dispute.

Chooljian reported allegations against Spofford last year involving women who either worked for him or were clients at his recovery centers. Spofford has maintained his denials throughout the reporting and subsequent lawsuit against NHPR.

St. Hilaire initially ruled against Spofford in April, stating the lawsuit did not show actual malice on the part of Chooljian and NHPR. The judge did give Spofford time to amend his lawsuit to add more evidence of malice, and Spofford’s quest for documents was part of that effort.

Chooljian and NHPR have not been idle in the months since the ruling. The public broadcaster is releasing a podcast this month, including a new allegation against Spofford. Spofford offered to sit down for an interview with Chooljian for the podcast, but his offer was rejected.

As part of the ruling, Spofford must pay for all the recorded interviews he requested to be transcribed. Spofford sold Granite State Recovery to a Texas company last year for an undisclosed sum. 

NHPR to Air New Spofford Allegations, Leaving Out Spofford Interview

New Hampshire Public Radio is taking another shot at former Granite State Recover CEO Eric Spofford with a planned podcast making new allegations of sexual misconduct. But the show won’t include Spofford’s side of the story.

The new production, coming out in early June, includes a story from an anonymous woman who claims she sent Spofford “intimate photos of herself” sometime in 2009 after he asked, according to court records.

“NHPR’s reporting apparently also will feature a new anonymous accuser—who was neither a patient nor employee, and who for apparently the first time ever and with no indication of corroboration—alleges Eric, in 2009 (14 years ago), requested that she send him ‘intimate photos of herself – and she [allegedly] did,’” wrote Michael Strauss, Spofford’s attorney.

Spofford is challenging the order dismissing his defamation lawsuit against NHPR for its story published last year alleging he sexually harassed and assaulted women using his position as the founder of the drug addiction recovery centers. He is currently seeking more time to file a new complaint in the case. NHPR is fighting that motion in court.

According to Strauss’s latest filing, Spofford offered to sit down with NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian for a no-holds-barred interview ahead of the new podcast. But the liberal media organization wasn’t interested.

“When Chooljian sprung NHPR’s plan for a new podcast series on Eric and requested he answer, effectively, 12 multi-part interrogatories, Eric offered NHPR and Chooljian something better: An in-person, unlimited-in-scope interview with him, on just two conditions: (i) Eric would be permitted to record the interview, and (ii) NHPR would publish, contemporaneously with and as part of the podcast series, the complete unedited version of the interview. NHPR refused,” Strauss wrote.

Rockingham Superior Court Judge Daniel St. Hilaire ruled in NHPR’s favor in March, stating Spofford failed to show that anyone at NHPR engaged in malice when reporting about the sexual assault allegations, despite the claims of bias and shoddy reporting in the lawsuit. Spofford maintains he never engaged in the sexual misconduct alleged in NHPR’s coverage.

Spofford claimed in his original lawsuit that Chooljian targeted him because of his Republican politics, and the public broadcaster used the story to raise money from donors.

“Chooljian viewed Eric as her opportunity to ascend the journalism ranks. To Chooljian, a #MeToo-styled report about a white male, Republican donor, and bold and successful businessman, who made money in the substance use disorder treatment business, had all the markings of a career-defining piece,” the lawsuit states.

In subsequent filings, Spofford went on to allege Chooljian relied on biased sources, like his ex-wife with whom he was engaged in a bitter custody dispute, and reported on nonexistent facts, such as a Snapchat photo of his penis sent to one victim. Spofford claims the photo does not exist and that Chooljian never saw the photo before reporting on it.

According to the filings, Chooljian and the station ignored witnesses who contradicted the story and refused to run statements that Spofford believed cleared him. 

Spofford’s Attorney Tells Judge NHPR Engaged in ‘Reckless Disregard’ of Facts

Despite hundreds of pages of evidence already submitted by Granite State Recovery founder Eric Spofford’s legal team, New Hampshire Public Radio says none of it adds up to malice, the key component for a defamation case.

“Zero plus zero still equals zero,” said Sigmund Schutz, NHPR’s attorney during Tuesday’s hearing in Rockingham Superior Court.

Spofford filed the defamation lawsuit against NHPR in October, claiming the public radio station ruined his life and career when it reported a story in which three women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. NHPR is trying to get the case dismissed before it can go to trial, arguing that Spofford aims to silence any critic who might come forward against him.

“This kind of lawsuit has a real chilling effect,” Schutz said. “The objective of this litigation is that just by filing, win or lose, is to silence critics,” Schutz said.

Howard Cooper, representing Spofford, said a trial is needed so a jury can weigh in on the radio station’s reporting, which he characterized as reckless at best.

“This case is about the intentional ignoring of the facts pre, during, and post-publication,” Cooper said. “There is no constitutional value in defamatory speech, and there is no chilling effect by requiring the media not to make up facts.”

Schutz said NHPR reporter Lauren Chooljian thoroughly reported, corroborated, and documented the story, which was published online in March, and the subject of over-the-air broadcast reports and podcasts. In the story, a former Granite State Recovery client and two former employees alleged they were harassed. The employees alleged that they were sexually assaulted.

At no point did NHPR report that Spofford was guilty of any crime when it laid out the women’s story, Schutz said. Schutz said that Spofford was given ample opportunity to comment on the story as it was being reported, and his denials of the accusations were reported.

“(Spofford) can deny the accusations are true, but he can’t deny that the accusations were made,” Schutz said.

But Cooper claimed NHPR’s reporting process is dubious, leaving out key details and using suspect sources to corroborate the story it wanted to tell.

In one instance, NHPR reported Spofford sent pictures of his penis to one of the women using Snap Chat, despite the reporter never seeing the photos for herself. She relied on claims from the alleged victims.

“That is so outrageous and improbable, no responsible news organization or reporter would have reported that,” Cooper said.

Another breach in NHPR’s reporting happened when former Granite State Recovery Human Resources Director Lynsie Miterer called Chooljian after one part of the story aired to correct her reporting on one of the accusations of sexual assault. Cooper said Chooljian reacted with hostility and never used any of the information from Miterer that challenged the reporting.

There is also the matter of the third alleged victim, known in the story as Employee B. NHPR reported Employee B claimed she was sexually assaulted by Spofford, but Chooljian never spoke to that woman. Instead, the reporter spoke to other people who claimed to have corroborating information.

“They should not have reported that,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the totality of the evidence already gathered shows sources who were ignored when they contradicted NHPR’s storyline, and weak corroboration, was used to push a narrative. All of it, he said, adds up to a case that needs to go to trial.

“This story never should have been published, reporters knew or recklessly disregarded facts that were staring them in the face and given to them,” Cooper said.

Judge Dan St. Hilaire will now consider the arguments from both sides. He is expected to make a ruling sometime in the next 30 days. If he finds for Spofford, NHPR would find itself before a jury to defend how it reports the news.